With Free Web Courses, Wharton Seeks Edge in Traditional Programs (WSJ)

April 30, 2014 8:00 p.m. ET

B-School Continues MOOCs Push Ahead of Rivals

Nearly two years into its grand experiment with massive open online courses, University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School is feeling bullish.

The school introduced its first MOOC, as they are known, in 2012, setting out on an ambitious plan to reach millions of new students. The free classes, in subjects like financial accounting and marketing, don’t carry any credit toward a Wharton degree, but they have given about 1.1 million participants a taste of academic life at the elite institution and a chance to learn basic business skills.

It’s perhaps the most coordinated effort at any business school. Wharton will have 15 MOOCs on the Coursera Inc. education-technology platform by year-end, including four “Foundation Series” courses introduced last fall and modeled on sections of its first-year M.B.A. curriculum.

The school is still learning how best to translate its on-campus offerings to the Web, but officials say the venture has already strengthened the brand and delivered an edge over competitors in an area that could ultimately upend traditional M.B.A. programs.

For now, other B-schools aren’t moving into MOOCs with quite the same enthusiasm. Columbia Business School doesn’t have any MOOCs, while University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business runs five. And Harvard Business School’s newest online offerings are neither massive nor open, with admission standards and a price tag.

Millions of people around the world are now enrolled in massive open online course, commonly referred to as MOOCs, and that number is growing. But just how much do students learn from them? WSJ’s Jason Bellini has the Short Answer.

“We are all closely watching each other in this early phase of MOOCs and digital innovation,” says Peter Rodriguez, senior associate dean for degree programs at Darden.

Karl Ulrich, vice dean of innovation and a professor of operations and information management at Wharton, says the coordinated move into MOOCs represents the school’s mission to expand educational access and an ambition to cement Wharton as “the authoritative source of knowledge about business.” The school highlighted its focus on online expansion in March by naming as its new dean Geoffrey Garrett, currently head of the Australian School of Business and a strong proponent of technology-enabled innovation.

Mauro Guillén, whose “Analyzing Global Trends for Business and Society” will start next week, says he is still in the minority when it comes to faculty enthusiasm for MOOCs. Mainly, his colleagues sit on the sidelines and wait “to see how well the pioneers do,” says Prof. Guillén.


Each online class costs the school $20,000 to $50,000 to create, depending on the professor’s involvement in production and editing. University of Pennsylvania gets a small share of the revenue MOOC provider Coursera gets through its $49 student-verification certificate, and Wharton takes a portion of that.

Dr. Ulrich says the income has been minimal and the school isn’t planning to make a profit on the venture.

Giving content away free of charge isn’t cheapening Wharton’s brand, administrators say, because the online offerings are different from the original.

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